DULUTH, GA - The Gladiators hosted the Solar Bears on home ice for the second time this season looking to get back in the win column. Atlanta outshot Orlando 36-17 and out-chanced the visitors for most of the game, but the opportunistic Solar Bears took the 5-4 win on Friday night.
An Orlando takeaway at the defensive blue line gave the visitors a break on Miroslav Svoboda. Jonne Tammela faked the pass on a two-on-one chance then took aim on goal. His shot went wide, but a stiff rebound off the end boards came back to an open corner of the net. Troy Bourke was there for the tap-in goal to give the Solar Bears the early lead at the 18:12 mark of the first period.
Atlanta found the game-tying goal at the 9:54 mark of the opening period. The sequence began when Jake Flegel tried to clear a puck on the penalty kill. Matt Lane found the puck at the defensive blue line and appeared to be tripped. He drifted through center ice with a defender’s stick between his skates. Newly-reassigned forward, Tanner Pond, walked into the offensive zone with Lane and had the puck on his stick at the center of the slot. His short-handed wrister beat high on the glove side of Corbin Boes and leveled the game.
Atlanta continued to bring the offensive pressure in the middle frame. Branden Troock fed Derek Nesbitt in the wide open near-side circle. The most veteran member of the Gladiators did the rest, with a beautiful one-timer that beat Boes and went off the post and into the top-left corner of the net.
After protecting the lead and on the power play, Atlanta could not keep the Solar Bears out of the net. A defensive zone giveaway by Atlanta gave Orlando a chance to strike. Mathieu Foget equaled Pond’s short-handed goal with one of his own to tie the game at two.
Atlanta’s power play continued its’ solid pressure, but it was the seconds after Orlando killed the power play that were detrimental. Brady Shaw left the penalty box and bolted to the offensive zone. Bourke found Shaw before the blue line and gave the speedy forward a breakaway chance. Shaw beat Svoboda with a slap shot and put the visitors in the lead.
The proverbial wheels seemed to come off when an unfortunate Atlanta bounce gave Bourke another point-blank shot at Svoboda. He scored for the second time on a short range breakaway and doubled the Solar Bear lead.
In the final minute of the second period, the Gladiators turned up the intensity. Trailing by two with less than :30 seconds to play in the period, Nesbitt delivered the puck along the wall to Troock behind the net. He found Pond streaking into the crease, and the Walled Lake, MI native buried the one-timer and brought Atlanta within one with a power play goal.
The home team tried to maintain that momentum in the final period, but found a defensive struggle for the opening majority of the third. Otto Sompii, making his Orlando debut, dished the puck to Cody Donaghey at the face-off dot. His blast regained Orlando’s two-goal advantage.
The Gladiators refused to back down. With just 5:00 remaining, Pond, having scored twice already, fed Nolan LaPorte on a dangerous chance. LaPorte fed Brett McKenzie with a drop pass in the middle of the slot. He bested Boes to bring Atlanta within one goal yet again.
Atlanta had some close chances in the final minutes but could not complete the comeback and dropped the game 5-4. Atlanta’s cold streak continues and left the home side at 13 points on the season. Orlando picks up their first regulation win since November 10th and secured points number 23 and 24.
Atlanta starts a home-and-home series with the South Carolina Stingrays on the road at North Charleston, SC tomorrow night at 7:05 pm.